Natural Gas (NG)

Natural Gas Properties

Natural gas is a mixture of light, gaseous hydrocarbons, consisting primarily of methane, the lightest gas in the mixture. It's exact composition varies, but nitrogen and sulfur compounds are present in much lower concentrations than in the other fossil fuels, coal and petroleum. Thus, natural gas burns with much less pollution and greater efficiency than coal or petroleum and is becoming the fossil fuel of choice for the production of electrical power. As of 2016, natural gas-fired plants contributed 34% of the electrical power generated in the United States, coal was second at 30% and nuclear power was third at 20%.

Conventional sources for natural gas are those in which the gas exists in underground reservoirs from which the gas can be comparatively easily and economically extracted. These deposits often exist in conjunction with petroleum, with the proportion of natural gas to petroleum dependant on the depth and subsequent temperature and pressure of the reservoir.

In relatively shallow reservoirs there is more petroleum than natural gas. In the deepest reservoirs one finds almost pure natural gas. These reservoirs were the first to be discovered and exploited and have for decades been the primary source in the U.S. for domestic natural gas.

Unconventional natural gas sources are best defined as those that have been difficult or economically too expensive to develop. As technologies advance and conventional resources are depleted, some unconventional sources, i.e. shale gas, are being greatly expanded.

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Global Production

According to the IEA (International Energy Agency), in 2016 the top ten producers of natural gas were as follows:

  • United States - 749 bcm (20.7%)
  • Russian Federation - 644 bcm (17.8%)
  • Islamic Rep of Iran - 190 bcm (5.3%)
  • Canada - 174 bcm (4.8%)
  • Qatar - 165 bcm (4.6%)
  • China - 137 bcm (3.8%)
  • Norway - 121 bcm (3.3%)
  • Algeria - 92 bcm (2.5%)
  • Saudi Arabia - 90 bcm (2.5%)
  • Australia - 88 bcm (2.4%)

bcm = billions of cubic meters
Percentages are percentage of world total.

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US Production

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Five states accounted for about 65% of total U.S. dry natural gas production in 2015:

  • Texas (26%)
  • Pennsylvania (18%)
  • Oklahoma (9%)
  • Wyoming (6%)
  • Louisiana (6%)

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US Usage

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Natural gas accounted for about 29% of U.S. energy consumption in 2015. The amount of natural gas used in the U.S. in 2015, expressed in units of a trillion cubic feet (Tcf) is as follows:

  • Electric power—9.7 Tcf
  • Industrial—9.1 Tcf
  • Residential—4.6 Tcf
  • Commercial—3.2 Tcf
  • Transportation—0.9 Tcf

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Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)

Transportation of natural gas by means other than pipelines requires that the gas be liquefied to conserve space and make transportation economically viable. When natural gas is cooled to about -260 degrees Fahrenheit it is liquid and has a volume about 600 times less than in the gaseous state. In liquid form it is suitable for both transportation and storage.

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Shale Gas

Shale gas is a form of "unconventional" natural gas. It is not easily extracted from the depths at which it is found. In fact its deposits are normally buried 15,000 feet or more underground. Special procedures that involve more than just drilling and simple extraction processes are needed to reach the gas, which is extracted by a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (otherwise known as "fracking") of the sedimentary shale in which the natural gas is entrapped. These two processes have made possible the economical extraction of massive amounts of shale gas that it otherwise would not have been feasible to obtain.

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As a source of energy, natural gas releases far fewer pollutants and greenhouse gases than either oil or coal. Most natural gas recovery in the USA, until recently, has been from natural, underground reservoirs, using processes similar in many ways to those used in the extraction of oil. Indeed, many reservoirs tapped for oil contain natural gas.

However, recent development of processes for economical extraction of natural gas from shale formations have increased public concern about the environmental effect of those processes. Those concerns include the overuse and contamination of water tables, land misuse, threat to endangered species and other environmental problems.

Additionally, methane, of which natural gas is almost entirely composed, is a gas with a greenhouse warming effect several times that of carbon dioxide. Leakage of methane into the atmosphere is a potential problem in its impact on the global climate and must be carefully monitored in any natural gas extraction process.

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Natural Gas Industry

The natural gas industry consists of a variety of entities with differing functions. Following is a simplified listing of the types of companies that constitute the makeup of the natural gas industry:

These are the owners and developers of natural gas wells. They can range from giant corporations to one or two person well owners.

Processing corporations are comparable to refinery companies in the oil industry. They separate the natural gas taken from earth into its marketable components, mostly methane.

Pipeline companies transport processed natural gas to locales where it can be stored and later marketed.

Storage operators own and control numerous underground storage facilities for natural gas. The gas is stored for later marketing and, in some cases, as safeguards to be used in emergencies.

Marketing companies facilitate connections between those entities in the industry that produce, process, transport and store natural gas and the retailers and end users who purchase the final, delivered products.

Local Distribution Companies (LDC)
LDC's bring natural gas to the end users via local pipelines.

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